Raise your hand if you’ve caught yourself — whether it was out loud or simply in your head — dropping the following line at some point early on this season:
“Shoot the $%@ ball, Luke!”
Yeah, I figured.
Let’s go back a few months. The Detroit Pistons were good. Then they were bad [editor’s note: really bad].
When Luke Kennard got the ball at the 3-point line, he hesitated. He surveyed the court. He pump-faked, then faked a pass. He thought about his three options: pass, drive and shoot — usually in that order. You could see the gears working in his head.
There wasn’t enough decisiveness. It was just indecision — too much of it.
Thankfully for the Pistons, that was then. Now, it’s different. These days, Kennard catches the ball ready to attack, and his team is (much) better for it.
Kennard’s emergence over the past month has as much to do with opportunity as it does his mentality. It seems like he’s been a different player, but maybe he’s the same player with the same skills and a different mindset. This guy’s aggressive. All that indecision is, for the most part, gone. Those in the stands, at home and, maybe, on the Pistons bench, aren’t having to yell anymore,
Kennard is shooting. And he’s hitting. And the Pistons are surging.
When the Pistons dealt Reggie Bullock and Stanley Johnson at the trade deadline, it opened the door for plenty of playing time and shots. Kennard has taken advantage. The second-year guard is playing a career-high 28.5 minutes per game since Feb. 6. He’s hitting 51 percent from the field and 50 percent from 3 while scoring 15.5 points per game.
I mean, look at this stuff:
Luke Kennard step back: pic.twitter.com/CWcW9sQHQh— Mike Snyder (@M_James_Snyder) March 7, 2019
Kennard has made four or more 3-pointers four times in the past 10 games. The Pistons are 8-2 over that span. When Kennard plays at least 25 minutes the team is 16-12.
When the Pistons have an aggressive Kennard on the floor, they’re better. Period.
It might also be as simple as some positive regression coming Kennard’s way.
With an extra four shots per game post-deadline, Kennard is scoring more effectively from every spot on the floor. Over his first 30 games, Kennard hit 36.7 percent of his “wide open” shots, attempts that come without a defender within 6 feet. He’s hitting 59.7 percent of those over his last 10.
That’s good. Green is good. If you’re going to miss bunnies at the rim, make up for it with flamethrower-level percentages from 3-point range. I think anybody will take that.
So, maybe the idea that Kennard should just shoot it was the key?
He’s actually holding the ball LONGER now than he was then! Nearly 58 percent of his touches lasted fewer than two seconds pre-deadline. He shot just 41.9 percent on those attempts, which you could attribute to any number of things.
Dwane Casey’s free-flowing offense gives players a lot of freedom. Figuring out what the best shot is takes time. Kennard, more than anyone, needed time to adjust to that. It didn’t help that he was coming back from injury to start the season.
The new Kennard is holding the ball a little longer, but he’s doing more with it. About 51 percent of his touches are in that fewer than two seconds over the past month, but he’s shooting 50.9 percent on those attempts. He’s doing more with the ball, something he appeared apprehensive of early on this year.
It seems simple: More playing time, more shots, more makes. Maybe that’s all it takes? Kennard appears more confident in his role and his shot. He’s finally embraced the freedom and lack of structure in the offense.
The Pistons are winning, which makes all of that a lot easier, too. Cool Hand Luke, as George Blaha has affectionately coined him, has been anything but recently. And, yes, he’ll cool off eventually, but this level of aggression and shot making is something we haven’t seen over Kennard’s young NBA career.
It’s exactly what he and the Pistons needed.